>The Prayer of St. Francis


>I don’t like to use this as a forum to regurgitate the words of others but last night while in meditation the memory of my father’s Irish tenor lilting these phrases came flooding back to me. I can’t remember exactly how old I was or what we were doing but I know that he would often break into songs like this while he and I were cleaning the barn or completing some other menial task. It speaks to the kind of life my family has lived for generations.

My only hope is to honour the legacy.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi

Peace – Lauren

>Ockham’s Razor


>

Behind the secrets of nature remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. – Albert Einstein

Ever wonder why physicists who’ve never been able to see an electron and can’t agree on the make-up of subatomic matter can turn around and treat people who believe in “god” as delusional?

I put “god” in quotations and use the lower case g here because I’m not in any way trying to make a case for God in the traditional, Abrahamic context. Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am both an unapologetic Christ Follower and staunchly irreligious. I’m merely trying to point out some odd contradictions that are over looked when taking a scientific world view and yet are the same types of contradictions that are used to make religious people look crazy.

Take for instance subatomic theory. Physicists cannot prove the existence of electrons. No machine has yet been invented that can magnify matter to that level; the best they can do is follow the scientific method of testing their theories in a controlled environment. However; in some cases electrons function very much like particles while in others they function like waves of energy. They cannot be both.

The theories that physicists have postulated for the make-up of matter at a subatomic level have been tested as much as possible at this time but they can be neither proven, nor disproven. At best we are left to continue to theorise and work within the “laws of nature” without really knowing how or why things work the way they do. That’s why I love the quote from Albert Einstein above.

Without comprehensive evidence in any one area we are left with what has become know has Ockham’s Razor. William of Ockham was a 14th century theologian who created the Law of Parsimony, most often expressed in Latin (pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate – plurality should not be posited without necessity) the law basically states that when competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions shall be considered correct. Or as Isaac Newton put it; “we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

It is also interesting to point out as a side note that all three of these great men of science; Einstein, Ockham and Newton where also members of their respective churches (in Einstein’s case make that synagogue), but I digress.

Economists have a created a model for negotiation and forecasting called Game Theory, also known as a Sum Game. In a sum game you chart all of the potential outcomes of an event on a board. On one side you put all of the potential outcomes for one party, both good and bad and on the other side you put corresponding outcome for the other party. If party A achieves outcome X then party B will be affected in manner Y and so on.

The ultimate goal of such an exercise is to figure out what are the best possible outcomes for both parties and how to achieve that goal. This is known as the win-win. The end result is almost never an equal win for both parties however; there is always one party that wins more. The art of negotiation is to know when to accept what you have won and move on, either recognizing that you are negotiating from a position of weakness and cannot demand more or if you could get more to do so would un-necessarily oppress the other party and it is therefore prudent to stop. No one wants to lose so ending a negotiation in a win-lose scenario almost always results in some form of oppression and leads to civil unrest or war. In some instances a situation leads to a stalemate where neither party is willing to accept any of the solutions on the table. This leads to a long period of inaction that is generally only broken when the very act of not acting becomes itself a losing proposition. Stalemates are most commonly seen when unions go on strike until the financial cost to one party outstrips their cash reserves and forces them back to the negotiating table.

So, what does this have to do with “god” and Ockham’s Razor? Stay with me on this, we’ll get there I promise. But first we have to talk about one more thing.

Collective morality has evolved within societies as different cultures have rubbed up against one another and had to learn to live together. We can see throughout history that basic morality, right and wrong, are the same across multiple cultures through thousands of years. But where did all this morality come from?

If we play a sum game with evolving societies and collective morality we can see clearly that morality is a win-win. The sceptic will say “ah ha – if morality is a win-win then that proves there is no need for god, morality “evolved” because it just makes sense – we’ve got you!” But if morality evolved it would have had to have a beginning. Why wouldn’t the stronger party always go for the biggest win they could get? Remember we already established that win-win does not mean equal.

In fact win-win is against human nature. Human nature drives us to gain all we can and suffer the consequences later. Man has had to be taught to see the benefits of win-win and throughout history each generation has had to re-learn that lesson.

So if morality is not human nature and is something that has to be consciously taught to each new generation then it hasn’t really evolved at all. The seed of morality has always been there, innately within our human consciousness and it had to be planted somehow.

This brings us back to my friend William of Ockham. Sceptics will say that morality evolved naturally as man learned to live together but can never give a satisfactory answer as to how the seed got planted. I say the simplest explanation is the truest – that morality was planted in the brain of man by design.

Who or what that designer is and how you respond is a discussion for another time. All I ask is that you keep an open mind just like the great religious scientists of our past did.

>How To Get Rich (or at least not go broke)


>

O God, I beg two favors from you;
let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?”
And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. Proverbs 30:7-9

Hettie Ruth Wallace was born in 1916 and raised in the town of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. Maple Creek is a “one grain-elevator town” on the Canadian prairie almost exactly half way between Calgary and Regina. Then, as now, the main industry was agriculture.

Although not a licensed doctor, Hettie’s father had a smattering of medical education and in addition to his homestead on the edge of town he acted as somewhat of a local healer. In the winter of 1931-32, at the height of the depression, Maple Creek fell under the grips of a major flu epidemic. The nearly destitute “Doc” Wallace worked around the clock as one by one his neighbours fell ill and died. By mid-winter his own wife would be among the dead and devastated by the loss and exhausted from the constant demands of a sick population Wallace himself would fall ill and die before Easter, 1932.

A few weeks later, as spring was returning to the prairie sixteen year old Hettie boarded a train east to live with her cousins in Toronto. During the five day journey, surrounded by the desperate and destitute forced “ride the rails” in an effort to find work Hettie made a vow, NEVER to be a burden to anyone.

She got a job and started to pay her own way right from the start. Every week, after the groceries were purchased and rent paid every penny left over was put away. She married Fred Britton, a tool and die maker from the smoke stack community of Oshawa, Ontario in 1938 and continued to squirrel away money, even just one or two dollars at a time, for the next 70 years. She raised two daughters, was blessed with seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Other than a mortgage that was guaranteed by Fred’s WWII veteran’s pension, they never carried any debt.

Hettie and Fred were a perfect embodiment of the Protestant work ethic. Work hard, spend less than you make, and do if for a really long time and you will amass a fortune that is the envy of most of the world. The generation that defeated Hitler taught us these things and ushered in the longest and largest economic expansion in history. For two decades from 1953 to 1973 the western economy grew an average of 5% percent per year, with the average household income more than doubling in that time period. But as this generation started to retire and live off their hard earned savings something changed.

As Daniel Bell put it 1976, “The Protestant ethic was undermined not by modernism but by capitalism itself. The greatest single engine in the destruction of the Protestant ethic was the invention of the instalment plan, or instant credit.” (The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism).

Somewhere around the middle of this expansion corporations realized that people were sitting on a lot of money and in order for the expansion to continue they had to start spending it. One of the most effective ways to get people to spend money is to convince them that they have even more – the solution was credit. Buy now, pay later. Why? Because you deserve it and you’re going to make the money eventually anyway.

Thirty years after Bell made that observation the result, according to a recent issue of Maclean’s Magazine, is that the average Canadian home is now carrying unsecured debt equivalent to 140% of their annual income. Put another way, if you make $80,000 per year, you owe $112,000 on credit cards. The average rate of interest on unsecured debt is 16% with minimum payments roughly the equivalent of amortizing the principle over 5 years. That means if you stop using your cards today and paid only the minimum balance it would take a grand total of 386 months (just over 32 years) to completely eliminate your debt. Most people would likely accelerate their payments as things got easier but if we all decided to do this the economy would grind to a halt, throwing millions out of work and exacerbating the problem beyond imagination.

Having hitched our wagon to the train of easy credit can we ever go back? I don’t have the answer to that but what I do know is that we can’t continue down this path. If we all just asked a few questions before we made a purchase it could make all the difference in the world.

“Will I still be paying for this after I’m finished using it?”
“Will it become obsolete before I’m finished paying for it?”
“Will I end up owing more than I make?”

If the answer to any of these questions is yes – you can’t afford it and if you still want to purchase the item you better save up your money first.

So here is my modest pledge; In the spirit of Hettie and Fred Britton I promise to stop spending more than I make and hope you will to….

Hettie Ruth Britton (nee. Wallace) died in early September 2008 at the age of 92 – completely free of debt. Fred Britton, 94 years young, continues to live a productive and financially secure life 29 years after retirement, just blocks from the home he shared with Hettie for over 60 years.

Happy Valentine’s Day Grandpa! – thanks for the legacy.

>Food is NOT a Weapon of War


>

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17

I am growing increasingly concerned about what has been termed, the Militarization of Aid.

Last week Dr. Christophe Fournier, the president of Doctor’s Without Boarders spoke out against the military control of aid saying that dispersing of food and medical supplies is usually done with strategic objectives in mind rather than humanitarian ones. Dr. Fournier cited Kabul, Afghanistan as an example where these supplies are still desperately needed but aren’t getting through because it is a politically stable area. Instead the military is diverting aid to outlying areas as a way to “win the hearts and minds of the people.” This policy is sure to backfire. Not only are they planting seeds of destabilization in the areas they neglect but by aligning with a military force in a hostile area humanitarian aid workers and even the recipients of aid are becoming targets themselves.

Of course the argument is that the humanitarian aid convoys need the protection of the military to do their work otherwise they wouldn’t be able to travel into some of these areas at all but is that really the case? What would happen if the Red Cross, or Red Crescent as it’s known in the Muslim world were to engage directly with the Taliban, no strings (or military convoys) attached?

Indeed what would happen if one man, acting alone, with a truck load of food were to set out from Kabul on a sort of Robin Hood mission to the first group of hungry people he met? Would he get shot or kidnapped? No – most likely he’d get arrested and brought back to the city for his own “protection”.

But what if he did manage to make contact with the locals? I think he’d be a hero and likely do more to win the hearts and minds of the people in one afternoon than the military could do in a month. Of course the other point is that he doesn’t need to set out from the relative safety of Kabul at all. There are plenty of hungry people right there in the city that aren’t receiving any assistance from the military and are slowly turning to the insurgency themselves.

This past week the United Kingdom hosted a conference on the future of Afghanistan in London. By my count there have been at least 5 such conferences held in various cities around the world since 2002, in Geneva, Rome and New York to name a few. There is always big talk about development and of weaning farmers off opium production but not once have we come away with any kind of concrete plan for addressing public health or food security. The conferences have never been held on Afghan soil and you cannot affect lasting change unless the most effected stakeholders are present.

It’s time to stop treating Afghans like children and give them a stake in their own future. Even invite some Taliban leaders to the table provided they aren’t affiliated with Al-Kida, and see what happens. If you truly want to win the hearts and minds of the people, put down your guns, pick up some bread and start talking.

What have these irreligious Christians come for that they write on their cards, “don’t approach, keep away”? If these bloody foreigners try to stay away from us, then for what reason have they come to our country? Posted on a pro-taliban website; Kabul, Afghanistan 2002

>Letter from Haiti


>I just got this email from a friend of mine who works at a clinic on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince. I read it with tears in my eyes and post it here in it’s entirety as a first hand account of the events of January 12.

To support the work of this Doctor and many others like her go to
www.ftccanada.ca

*****

I don’t now how to start this e-mail.

Maybe with an “We are sorry” for the lack of communication.

Maybe with a thank you to my daughter Teagan for communicating with so many of you for us.

I don’t know

I am exhausted, emotionally drained and in control at the same time.

It is time to tell our story.

We are all OK. Our house still stands. That is a blessing. If that were not the case, we would not have been able to help so many after the quake hit.

I was in the kitchen, my son Grayden was in his room. Bridgely was in the house but close to the door. We think one of the twins was in her bedroom and one was on the porch. Teagan and Laurens were on the porch. It started as a low hum and shake, then it grew….

My mind thought, “that is strange”, then my mind thought, “what is that?”. In a matter of seconds the house came alive and I was at the end of my kitchen table. The shaking was incredible. I remember seeing the concrete walls moving violently in a wave like at a wave pool. One to my right, one to my left and then one in front of me moving in a different direction. I also remember the ceiling was moving in a wave above me. The floor beneath my feet did not feel attached to me.

Grayden ran to me screaming. Hysterical screams and I clung him tight to me and instinctively semi crouched. All of this may have only taken a few seconds..i don’t know. The next thing I remember was Laurens running in the house yelling “get out, get out, get out…RUN” As he grabbed my arm, I went into full action. Still clinging to Grayden, I ran to the door grabbing as many of my children as I could. Yelling myself, “RUN, RUN, RUN, GO, GO”. We reached the steps to the garden and I remember how difficult it was to run down them as the concrete steps were moving. I remember running through the front drive with the land still moving. Laurens was still yelling to run further to get away from the building. The dog followed us all. When I got to the end of the driveway, I looked around and counted kids, I could not see Bridgely. I turned back to the building and screamed “BRIDGELY, BRIDGELY, BRIDGELY” as I thought he was still on the upper level at our neighbours. Then there he was in front of me. He had been holding my hand the whole time.

Somewhere between the driveway and the road, the movement stopped. For a moment….. then it started again, smaller but almost as big as the first and long as well. I gathered the kids and instructed them to sit and we huddled until it stopped. Then it started again…….Finally the earth rested for a while.

Then I stood up and turned around……From our rural hill not far from Port au Prince, we have a few of the whole city. As I looked out towards the city and the ocean, that is when I realized what had just happened. The entire city went up in dust. One huge even dust cloud arose from the entire massive city. It was like a bomb had gone off and it was the smoke rising. I looked to the right and saw a similar smaller cloud over our local village Source Matlas. I looked to the left and saw a large cloud of dust and smoke from the flour factory. I was speechless regarding what all this may have meant.

That may have been enough to deal with except that we realized that we had a team of 53 Canadian’s visiting on a short term mission trip. We went into leader mode. Laurens went to check on a few things and I gathered the team. Grant went to get the ambulance and I gathered the visiting nurses and doc. We jumped into the ambulance and headed down to the clinic. Grant took the team in and I rushed to the front gate of our mission. By the time I got there, the injured started arriving. They came in tap tap (pick up truck taxi) after tap tap. Children, woman and men.

Their arms and legs were crushed, their bones sticking out of their bodies, their heads gashed open. Some crying in pain, some barely alive. 5, 6, 7, people per truck.

After a few minutes I left the gate and security took over letting them all in and I rushed back to the hospital. For the next 33 hours straight we worked on the traumatic cases that lie before us. It looked like war. We did not know the integrity of the clinic yet so we could not go inside. The aftershocks started to come and were frequent but less in intensity. We had to get supplies in side but ran back out every aftershock we got. The injured were lying all over our outside walk way. Grant, our visiting nurses and myself worked on triaging the worst patients. We are not a full service hospital, we are just a clinic…..we started to get reports that the biggest hospital in PAP, General hospital had crashed down, Doctors without Borders had crashed (the only 2 main ER’s in the entire city!). We got further reports that other hospitals were down. We started to realize, that we were all there was for miles and miles and miles.

At the 20th hour, we told the gate we could not accept anymore patients as we still had to get through many many more. We sent our nurses (except for a few) and our helpers to work in shifts and Grant and I worked on. We reduced (tractioned bones back in place) open compound fractures…….putting tibia bones, back into people’s legs that were sticking out. We reduced and set many many femur fractures, lower leg fractures, arm fractures. We sutured arms, legs, heads. We put scalps back together and we cleaned concrete out of wounds for hours. We stabilized pelvic fractures and we helped babies with head trauma breath on oxygen.

We had 3 die. 1 baby, 1 two year old and 1 ten year old. We had 4 others on the brink of death. We saved a lot. Because we had no other choice (as there was no where to send them), at the end of 33 hours, we had discharged all but 5 to follow up. The last few we attempted to take to hospitals. 3 refused and wanted to go home to die.

The other 2 Grant and Laurens tried to find somewhere that would take them in Port Au Prince. It was true, most hospital’s were not functioning and those that were, were full of bodies, inside and out. Everywhere, some alive and some dead. Bodies were pilled up in the parking lots as there was no where to put them. Most of the doctors that used to work at the hospital’s were dead or not heard of. Families had no where to take their loved one’s bodies because their houses were crashed down, they still were missing family members or the funeral homes were destroyed….so they left them.

We went home and slept 6 hours. Then opened the clinic again. We worked another 10 hours, seeing the same things. Finally it stopped. There were no more tap tap’s running as there was no more diesel for their vehicles.

That same night, our president of Mission of Hope arrived. We started into disaster relief planing with some partner organizations. By this time reports of what the damage in the country looked like were becoming clear. We had US and CAN doctors start to come in through the dominican to help. We have had doctors coming now since Sat. We have been coordinating a grand scale disaster relief plan for the 100’s of thousands of people that have not yet got into the hospital and for food distribution. It is to say the least, no small task.

We have hardly slept, we have not been able to communicate with you. Tonight it was time.

The capital is devastated. The national palace is on the ground (white house), the ministry of transportation is on the ground, the huge justice palace (the whole judicial system) is on the ground, the ministry of health is on the ground, the ministry of finance is not down but destroyed, the entire downtown core has almost every building down to rubble, the insurance bureau is on the ground, every national bank headquarters are crashed to the ground except one that stands severely damaged, the head police headquarters is in rubble, the hospital that Laurens was in after his accident (the best in the country) is severely damaged and non functional, the building that has all the adoption papers in the country is destroyed, the only grocery store that all the missionaries shop at (that I almost was at that day) is rubble on the ground killing and trapping everyone inside, the Montana hotel where we had lunch not so long ago is completely rubble killing everyone inside, many collages and schools and crashed down, Digicel world headquarters (cell phone) and the tallest building in PAP is to the ground (hence we have no cell communications and on…..and on…..and on.

We have 160 staff on our mission and we already know of one that has died and we still have not heard from about 100 staff. Everyday that someone shows up is joyous to see that they are alive. Most everyone has a family member that has died. One security guard has 4 children that died. Many of our Haitian staff suffer severe post traumatic stress after what they have been through or seen. One of our friends was trapped in his school next to 50 of his classmates that were crushed by the building. He heard them screaming but could not save them. He watched them die, as he was trapped inside for 3 hours with a dead man on his chest. He was pulled out eventually.

Every time a plane passes over, or a car drives up, we all brace ourselves and jump until we realize that it is not another quake. Aftershocks are stressful. We often have a false sense that the ground is moving. People have a fear to go in buildings. Our building is structurally OK but I do not like to be in my bedroom for long….it is too far from the door. Laurens sleeps on the couch. A protective move I know to be closer to the kids for evacuation. We sleep with the front door open for quick escape…baby steps. It is better than the tents we slept in at first to make sure the building was safe.

This earthquake was like no other. Mainly because it hit a country with such poor infrastructure. It was completely unexpected. It is like kicking a baby down before it knows how to stand.

But we are moving on. We are alive and our house is fine. Mission of Hope is an oasis compared to the city. The kids are good. They are resilient and they started back to school today. Diana has been amazing and the Canadian team was amazing being there for them too. We have a great team on staff at Mission of Hope.

Despite the destruction, we are seeing hope, we know that God will use this to show his light. We know many people that have come to Christ already because of this event and now is the body of Christ’s time to shine. So many things destroyed….yet most of the Christian missions survived. God has big things planned for this country. God has used us in mighty ways this past week. He has used us for the Haitian people, He has used us in the media, He has used us to bond with each other and He will continue to use us mightily.

I have learned more in one week than most in a lifetime. I now know how to reduce compound open wound fractures, I know how to cast, I know how to suture and have become proficient enough that I sutured the flap of someone’s nose back on (quite good too I might add 🙂 ), I know how to handle cases when there is no other option, I know how to stab an attempt at coordinating disaster relief and to run functional field clinics. I have been on TV and am part of meetings at the UN logistic base with the World Health Organization, UN, military and other NGO’s. I am one of the few North American doc’s on the ground right now that lived in Haiti and I am visiting and coordinating inside many field and broken down hospital set ups. It is strange. It is surreal.

Rachel (missionary here) and I were just saying today that if someone had told us that this is what we would have had to do this week prior to this event, we would have “quit”. We would have said no way God! I can’t do all of that. We would have underestimated our abilities based on what we were comfortable with. We have learned that God knows more than we do, that He knows what we can handle and He has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.

We thank you for your prayers this past week. This is not over, it is a long road ahead. Please pray for the Haitian people. Every person was affected by this. Please pray for supply chains to open up, pray for the port to be fixed, pray for timely food and water distributions, pray for organization of relief organizations and military. Pray that now eyes will be opened to the need we had prior to this earthquake…our clinic and hospital, and that funding will come in. Pray for our family and the other staff.

Cheryl….

>Haiti, Sustainable Aid or Flavour of the Month?


>

Slowly and painfully, we are seeing worldwide acceptance of the fact that the wealthier and more technically advanced countries have a responsibility to help the underdeveloped ones. – Sir Edmond Hillary

By now everyone knows what happened in the city of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday afternoon. The images of devastation are hard to look at and even harder to ignore.

I am heartened by the outpouring of support from wealthy nations like Canada, the United States and Britain. The Canadian government yesterday pledged to match dollar for dollar everything Canadian citizens give in support of the relief effort. This is estimated to be as much as $100 million. Aid Organizations like World Vision, The Red Cross and Mennonite Central Committee have had to bring in extra staff to handle the volume of donations. But I worry that as the media spot light fades the support will dry up. As one exasperated Haitian put it “we don’t need the media, we need help.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. According to 2008 numbers from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) the gross domestic product per capita is only $1,660 per year and only 50% of the population has even a primary education. 10 million people are crammed into a land mass roughly the size of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Haiti didn’t get this way as a result of an earthquake or even repeated direct hits by hurricanes in 2007-08. Haiti got this way as a result of bad government and a combination of international neglect/meddling. In the 90s Canada and the United States launched a joint military intervention in Haiti that ousted a corrupt president and installed a new government. They promptly left the country and never followed up with the kinds of support an emerging democracy and economy needs. The result is the Haiti we have today.

Compare this to the Dominican Republic which shares the same island; the population is roughly the same but GDP is nearly 6 times higher at $8,220 and 75% of the population is educated. Still poor by G8 standards but much better off than its neighbour to the west. As recently is 50 years ago Haiti was the stronger country and at various times throughout its history the island has been unified under one government based in Port-au-Prince.

The reasons for the differences between the two countries could take days to dissect. For a detailed analysis check out Jared Diamond’s book Collapse; How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed.

My point is this; the problems in Haiti and other destitute countries throughout the world will not be solved by writing a cheque to the Red Cross. After the media spotlight fades your money will most likely be used to rebuild and life will somehow return to normal. Granted some of your money will end up in the hands of corrupt individuals or lost to administrative costs, that is just the way things are and I really have nothing to say to that fact. But normal in Haiti is still deplorable to most of the world.

What Haiti needs is long term assistance. Not just money but expertise in education, resource management, entrepreneurship, and government reform. $100 million dollars from Canada will rebuild a lot of infrastructure but to maintain that infrastructure and build human capital to lift the nation out of poverty takes commitment. Years and years of commitment.

Let’s hope that we don’t repeat our mistakes of the 90s and this time we follow through and support our Haitian neighbours as they rebuild not only their homes but a better life.

>2010-01-01


>The Christmas Season has been hectic, as usual, and I haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and work through some of my more recent Earworms. I wanted to take this opportunity though to let you know what has been on my mind even if I can’t give it the thorough analysis it deserves. That will just have to wait a bit longer.

First off, a story that has been largely ignored by main stream media but exploded in the blogosphere lately has been the Canadian Government’s defunding of Kairos, a Christian Ecumenical Aid Organization that has been running development projects throughout the world for decades. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has been providing tax-payer funding to Kairos for 35 years and up until November 30 all indications were that the funding would continue. Reasons given for pulling the funds (CDN $7.1 million dollars over 4 years, amounting to nearly half of the organization’s budget) are a bit suspect and seem to be more politically motivated than anyone is willing to admit.

The Earworm that has been settling in my head however has very little to do with the politics of the situation. My main question centers more around what happens when so called non-partisan organizations accept huge amounts of money for one source, be it a specific individual, other organization or government. Should they not then accept the risk that their benefactor my change their mind? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, he who pays the piper calls the tune and all that.

The other thought that I’ve been working on centers around Corporate Responsibility. Around the time of the UN Climate Change Conference last month, one of my friends told me that he believes the world economy is increasingly being controlled by a handful of the wealthiest individuals. If that were expressly true I’m sure we would know who they are but when people talk about this idea it’s presented as some vast conspiracy with shadowy puppet masters pulling strings far from the public eye. “The Company” in the Fox television show “Prison Break” is a good example of what this might look like but the theory just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Corporations are in business for one reason, to make money for their shareholders. In fact under US, and similar laws in almost every territory of the world, if the board of directors of a corporation makes a decision that they know will cause the company to lose money they can be sent to prison. It’s called “violation of fiduciary responsibility”.

In most cases the shareholders of the world’s largest corporations are not small numbers of the super rich but an army of individuals with their mutual funds and other forms of retirement savings. Thomas Friedman in his book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” termed these people The Electronic Herd. If the herd decides a corporation, or country for that matter, is making bad financial decisions they pull their money out in droves and literally bankrupt them in a matter of hours. In recent memory that is exactly what happened to Enron, Bear Stearns, Hollinger and the country of Malaysia.

So the bottom line is that changing the way corporations or countries behave in the world is more a function of influencing individual consumers like you and me than a handful of super rich untouchables. If we stop buying their products or trusting our retirement to their stability they will be forced to change the way they do business. Even if my friend is right those shadowy overlords of industry want to keep getting richer and they can’t do that if we stop buying their products. We cast ballots for corporate boards and the economies of entire countries every time we go to the mall.

May this be the decade when the world finally gets it.

>Abolishing the Death Penalty – The Ultimate Expression of Mercy


>

The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth like a gentle rain from heaven. W. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

On 15 December the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay called for a universal abolition of the Death Penalty.

www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=33259&Cr=pillay&Cr1=

As I stated in my new manifesto, ALL life is sacred. That means that punishment for any crime must never stoop to end the life of the accused even in cases of murder or genocide. Just because someone takes the life of an individual is not justification for taking theirs.

I can already hear many of my friends clearing their throats and getting ready to site all kinds of Judeo-Christian justification for the death penalty, eye for eye and all the hoo-ha.

Just think for one second and ask yourself why the United States is the only so called Christian Democracy still employing this barbaric form of punishment? Out of the most recent list of 26 countries still practicing the death penalty the United States ranks 5th behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea and well ahead of such human rights pariahs as Libya, Sudan and Syria. Other than the United States the only other so called developed societies on the list are Japan and Singapore which together still executed fewer than half the number of criminals.

How do Christians justify this position? There are two Old Testament laws that are most often referenced.

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:21

Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. Leviticus 24:21

At first glance it seems reasonable enough, equal punishment for an equal crime. But why then do we in the west recoil at reports of thieves who are sentenced to have their hands cut off while routinely sentencing people to death? We stopped maiming one another long ago but for some reason the death penalty persists.
In her statement High Commissioner Pillay said “I hold this position for a number of reasons: these include the fundamental nature of the right to life; the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people by mistake; the absence of proof that the death penalty serves as a deterrent; and what is, to my mind, the inappropriately vengeful character of the sentence.”

For me it’s that last part that really rings true. Revenge never solved anything. Where is the grace and mercy in all of this?

Jesus held mercy in high esteem, saying in effect that those who were merciful would get as good as they give. (Blessed are the Merciful for they will receive Mercy, Matthew 5:7) It is the highest form of mercy and grace to say to the man who murdered your family, “I am within my rights to kill you, as stated in Leviticus above, but instead I will restrain myself and let you live out your natural life.”

If God is a God of mercy and if we are to be his followers we too must be people of mercy. There is no mercy in the death penalty and I agree with High Commission Pillay that it must be abolished.

>My New Manifesto – Life, Love and Service


>There it is; my purpose defined in a three words.

It’s taken about a month of research, careful thought and prayer but I think I’ve finally got it. What makes Lauren Sheil tick? An unwavering conviction that ALL life is sacred, the greatest commandment ever given is to love one another and that the best way to demonstrate those two convictions is through a life of service.

Life is Sacred
What does that mean? Does it mean I’m going to join P.E.T.A. or become a vegetarian? No, plants are living things too. I still have to eat but there is no point in un-necessary suffering or eating food that has a major impact on the environment. Short of moving to a farm and eating only what I raise myself it’s not possible to monitor everything about what I eat, just being conscious of it is enough.

What this really means is changing the lens with which I look at the world. Everything that affects the quality of life from obvious human rights violations to climate change policies has an impact. It goes way beyond being an environmentalist or animal rights activist. When all life is sacred there is no justification for war or oppression of any type, just as there is no justification for clear cutting forests, dumping toxic waste into a river or capital punishment.

In my second entry on this blog I stated that Peace without Justice is Oppression (My Peace Statement, Aug 9, 2009) I believe that even more strongly today. Life is sacred and any action that devalues life is sin, plain and simple.

Love One Another

36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt. 22:36-39

I’m going to upset a lot of people, Christians especially, when I say this but NOBODY does this right. Okay, maybe some people do but they are few and far between.

The first thing to note here is that Jesus was asked to give ONE law but ended up giving TWO. Why did he do that? I think it’s because they are impossible to separate. God is so deeply involved in the lives of people that you cannot demonstrate your love for him in isolation. So showing love to God with all your heart, soul and mind is done by showing that same love to your neighbour.

But who then is my neighbour? In Luke’s account of this same incident Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a well know story so I won’t recount it here but the bottom line is everyone is your neighbour; regardless of race, health, wealth or social standing! Most Christians I know would do well to stop here and read that again. We get a bad rap in the world because even non-Christians understand the meaning of this, they look to us to demonstrate it and all too often we fail. If Jesus were to tell this parable to Christians today he could just as easily call it the Good Muslim and instead of a traveller beaten up and left for dead on the side of the road it could be a gay man dying of AIDS.

God is far more interested in the condition of our hearts than some arbitrary rule of who’s inside or who’s outside of the circle. Suffering is suffering and loving service to individuals is the only appropriate response.

This brings me to my final point:

Service

12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13″You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. John 13:12-14

The significance of foot washing has been lost in our modern context. Today when we come in to someone’s house we take off our shoes but in Jesus day when a person came in from the outdoors, especially after travelling a long distance they had to wash their feet. People wore sandals and so their feet would have obviously been dirty. In a larger house the job of washing a visitor’s feet would have fallen to the lowliest of servants. So when Jesus, the “Lord”, washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper it would have been shocking to everyone present, in fact Peter was so horrified at the thought that he initially refused to allow it.

Jesus teaching on how to show love comes down to this moment, as the most powerful human ever to walk the earth, he was in essence GOD, Jesus tells us to wash one another’s feet. Relinquish your “standing” in any situation and willingly do the most menial of tasks in the service of others.

So there you have it; my purpose in life and the reasoning behind it.

Respect Life, Love All and Serve.

>Rants from the Headlines


>In recent years, Canada on the international stage has become like the socially awkward, border-line retarded cousin who gets invited to Thanksgiving out of courtesy to grandma (Great Britten). You know the one he bums a ride with his cooler big brother (USA) and then stands in the corner with a face full of cheese puffs so nobody asks him anything important. He just smiles and nods at whatever big brother says half the time not understanding a word of it.

Gone are the days when Canada could take the lead on any international issues of note. Not since Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister in the 60s have we led a major UN project, the UN Peacekeeping force. In more recent years we squandered our chance to lead the way on land mines even though the movement was spearheaded by a prominent Canadian business man. In fact we almost failed to sign the treaty at all.

In the last few weeks international headlines about Canada have made us look like a nerdy, dithering, buffoon.

I first noticed when Prime Minister Harper announced he would not be attending the UN Climate Change meetings in Copenhagen. He cited the fact that it is really supposed to be a meeting of environment ministers, not heads of state. A reasonable enough excuse but two days later Barak Obama said he would be there and in a pathetic bid to seem relevant, Harper changed his mind. The situation got worse a few days later when, as the only Commonwealth country not to have signed the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change a proposal was put forth to suspend our membership in the 53 member group of former British colonies. Never in the history of the Commonwealth Organization has a country been suspended over environmental policy. The proposal was ultimately defeated but the president has been set nevertheless.

Prior to the current climate change brouhaha, news broke that back in the early days of the Afghan mission our soldiers had turned prisoners over to local authorities with full knowledge that they would likely be tortured. It was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention done more to prove a point to George W. Bush that we were serious about role after having refused to send troops to Iraq than for any real militarily relevant strategy.

This week Prime Minister Harper is in China. It is his first state visit to that country in 5 years. China is our second biggest trading partner and Chinese authorities have called it a snub to the importance the two countries place on each other that it has taken so long for Harper to make the trip. I cannot say I blame them.

And finally yesterday, after the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) had already approved a $7 million funding request KIAROS, a faith based development agency, the minister responsible refused to release the funds. The reason, after nearly 30 years of helping to represent Canada in the developing world, KIAROS, which has been critical of the government on climate change, no longer fits with the government vision of international development. This is hitting below the belt. Now every organization that relays on tax payer funds, no matter how well established and respected has to be careful not to offend the governing party or risk their entire existence. Way to go!

See the full story here;

ottawa-ceases-funding-of-overseas-human-rights-group